Margaret’s story: it’s what you do with your age that matters

Marg Mattea

The biggest change for Margaret in the last seven years has been her husband Dino’s stroke and eventual death. It’s taken, and still takes, an effort to pick herself up from that.

In 2016 she was 78; this year she turns 85. In the book I used her story to illustrate the habit of Looking for Opportunities to Move.

That was because exercise had become central to her life, even though it wasn’t part of her routine until her 70s.

As a young mum of three Margaret played netball, and her work — as an Ansett flight attendant, running a catering business, and as an aged care administrator —kept her on her feet.

But once she started practicing squatting, bending, lifting, balancing, and so on, she loved seeing herself improve and able to do things she couldn’t previously do.

Dino’s stroke occurred about two-and-a-half years ago. He developed dementia as a result, and it became clear he couldn’t keep living at home.

She felt the guilt many people feel about family members going into care. Then came twelve long, hard months of visiting a man who was no longer the husband she knew.

“It was upsetting to see him that way, and I felt constantly stressed,” she says. “When he died it was almost a relief.”

That year took a toll on both her health and her confidence. After it, she had to find the nerve to get back to driving and doing things by herself.

Slowly though, the old Margaret is showing up again.

When she reflects on what she’s been through she says, “there was a sense of losing a bit of worth”, but “I’ve replaced that by taking the next step”.

“Losing Dino meant I’ve had to do things I’ve never done before. Like home maintenance. I’ve never worried about that. But right now I’m organising to get the outside of the house washed.

“I’ve had to find the strength within myself to do all those things. And by doing it, it’s given me back a sense that I can do things.

“I miss him, and I talk to him all the time. Like I talk to my mother all the time. When I’m dressed up and standing in front of the mirror, I’ll say to him: ’so what do you think?’”

“But I’d say I’ve grown within myself. I’ve taken up the services available to help with cleaning and shopping, which has taken the load off my family. I’m still independent but I don’t have to try to be perfect, and I can accept help.”

Then she talks about exercise again.

“It’s good to have something I do that’s not about family. It’s not just the exercise; it’s the chance to talk things through with other women.”

As a measure of how far she’s come, she gives an example of an evening event she went to recently.

“You’ve got to present yourself well, so I was all dressed up. And I went up to a couple of well-dressed men and asked to chat to them. I wouldn’t have had the confidence to do that before.

“When it was time to go, they said they’d had the best time. I came home exhausted because I hadn’t shut up all night.

“And the kids (her grandchildren) came up to me and said: we’re so proud of you, Nonna.

“The good thing about exercise is that when I’m out like that I know that when I stand up I won’t stumble around.

“No one can tell you how 85 should feel, so you have to decide. It’s what you do with that age that matters.”


Photo Source: Alex Mattea

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